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Research Process: Types of Sources

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Source Videos

Different types of Library Sources

What types of sources are available?

When you are doing research, you will need to keep in mind that there is a wide variety of resources available to use.  Here are a few examples:

    Books:  These contain comprehensive information on a topic, but are not as current as the Internet or newspapers because of the time it takes for them to be published.

Magazines:  These provide a broad overview of current event issues and other popular topics.  These are usually not considered as reliable as academic journals since they are not required to list the sources of their information. 

    Newspapers:  These provide up-to-date and primarily unbiased information about local, national, and international events and issues, as well as editorial opinion stories.   

Academic Journals:  These are published by and for experts in a particular field of study, such as history or literature, and contain the latest research in that particular field.  These are often peer-reviewed, meaning that they have been reviewed for accuracy and credibility by a panel of experts in that field.

Websites: These cover a wide variety of information from many different perspectives, but should particularly be evaluated for accuracy and currency. 

Videos: These can be especially useful when trying to illustrate difficult or complicated concepts, but can vary widely in quality.

NOTE: All potential sources for research should be carefully evaluated before they are used.  You can find information about source evaluation under the "Evaluating Sources" tab in this guide.  


    "Music Library" by Guiseppe Maria Crespi               "USA Washington DC. 1974. Headlines on the

             Accessed via ARTstor                                            daily newspapers 'Nixon Resigns' "

                                                                                       by Alex Webb; Accessed via ARTstor

Types of Information Sources Videos

Reference vs. Non-reference Books

There are two main types of books that you might consider using for your research:  Reference books and Non-reference (circulating) books. So, what's the difference?

Let's say you are doing a research paper about the Civil War.  Here is an example of a reference book that you might find on this topic:

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Encyclopedias are one type of reference book that provide a broad general overview of a topic.  Some encyclopedias, like the Encyclopedia Britannica, include basic information about a wide variety of topics.  Others, like the book shown above, will focus on a particular subject, such as the Civil War, and will include sections that provide a little more detail about different topics within that subject.  These can be a good place to start your research, but you should not limit your search to these types of sources since they usually do not provide very detailed information.  

Other types of reference sources include dictionaries (which, like encyclopedias, may be general or subject-specific), almanacs, and atlases.  All of these provide good information that can be used to start or supplement your research, but should not be used as the basis for a research project.

Online reference resources available through the UA-PTC Libraries include (off campus username = Your UA-PTC Portal Username ex: jasmith1234, password = Your UA-PTC Portal Password):

World Book Advanced 

Funk & Wagnall's New World Encyclopedia


Non-reference books (sometimes referred to as "circulating books" in libraries) are usually written to provide detailed information about a particular topic.  In the case of the Civil War, this might be a particular battle, person, or location.  This book, for instance, focuses on a particular location (Virginia) during a specific time period of the war (1862):

                                                              Cover Image

NOTE:  Reference sources found in libraries often can not be checked out, but must be used within the library.  However, you can usually make copies of the pages you need.

Subject Guide

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Scholarly and Popular Source Videos

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